Nigeria’s political landscape woke up to yet another intriguing upset on Tuesday when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Dauda Lawal Dare, was declared winner of the governorship election in Zamfara State, unseating the incumbent, Governor Bello Matawalle, who was seeking re-election under the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Returning Officer for the election, Professor Kasimu Shehu, while declaring the final results, said Dare scored 377,726 votes to defeat Matawalle, who polled 311,976 votes.
Zamfara has since erupted into jubilation, with Lawal and PDP supporters celebrating what many described as a hard-earned victory after a keenly contested election.
Of course, Lawal’s victory did not come on a silver platter. The road to success was pretty rough for the former First Bank director, who fought four legal battles up till two weeks to the poll before he was finally affirmed as the PDP governorship candidate.
Lawal’s first legal hurdle was in September 2022 when the Federal High Court in Gusau nullified the primary election that produced him as the PDP candidate.
A former federal lawmaker, Alhaji Ibrahim Shehu Gusau, had asked the court to nullify the election, saying it was marred by irregularities.
Justice Aminu Bappa nullified the May 25, 2022 primary and ordered that a rerun be held.
Although Lawal won the rerun, his victory was put on hold as Gusau went back to the same court to contest the exercise.
Again, Justice Bappa nullified the rerun and even added a shocker: PDP would not field any candidate for the 2023 governorship election in the state, he had ruled.
The rerun was nullified on the grounds of irregularities and non-compliance with the party’s 2017 constitution as well as its electoral guidelines for the conduct of elections.
Lawal didn’t give up. He, Adamu Maina-Waziri, the Chairman of the Primary Election Committee and Col. Bala Mande (retired) approached the Appeal Court Division in Sokoto to seek redress.
Entering 2003 with challenges
In January 2023, the appellate court in a unanimous judgment read by Justice Abubakar Talba, quashed the Federal High Court ruling and reinstated Lawal as the PDP governorship candidate.
The respondents in the suit were Gusau, Alhaji Wadatau Madawaki, Hafiz Nahuche and INEC.
Justice Talba held that the appellants succeeded in proving all the seven grounds of appeal canvassed by their counsel and that the court resolved all in their favour.
The presiding judge held that the lower court was wrong to discountenance documents submitted by INEC, adding that it (the trial court) did not stipulate the period of conducting a rerun election and notices of participation.
Another victory for Lawal, but the legal battle was not over, as Gusau appealed the ruling at the Supreme Court.
On March 6, 2023, Lawal would eventually heave a sigh of relief when the apex court affirmed him as the PDP candidate.
The court, in a unanimous decision by a five-man panel of justices, dismissed Gusau’s appeal, challenging the legality of the primary election. Justice Inyang Okoro, who read the lead judgment, said the appeal lacked merit.
“The court resolved all the issues for determination against the appellant and held that the appeal was unmeritorious, and the same was dismissed,” Okoro said.
Previous court cases
Rounds of suits surrounding Lawal’s candidature appear to foreground his antecedent as a man whose fate is partly tied to legal wheels.
From May 2016 to 2021, Lawal slugged it out with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which accused him of money laundering and obtaining monies suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
The case, which travelled from a high court up to the Supreme Court, was brought to a close in March 2021 when the apex court ordered the EFCC to return N9 billion to the ex-First Bank director.
In a unanimous judgment, the five-man panel, led by Justice Muhammad Lawal Garba, dismissed the appeal filed by the EFCC against the judgment of the Court of Appeal which, among other things, ordered that:
“The decisions of the Federal High Court, Coram Judice: Hassan, J. delivered in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/13/2017 on February 16, 2017, are hereby set aside. The order of final forfeiture of the sum of N9,080,000,000 (nine billion and eighty million naira) to the Federal Government of Nigeria is hereby set aside. It is hereby ordered that the said sum of N9,080,000,000 (nine billion and eighty million naira) be returned to the appellant forthwith.”
On October 7, 2020, the Federal High Court, Lagos Division, discharged and acquitted Lawal of the offences of money laundering, obtaining monies suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities, and the other charges brought against him by the EFCC.
How Matawalle lost
The PDP is no doubt having the last laugh following what happened in the 2019 governorship and other elections in Zamfara State.
Matawalle came to power gratuitously by virtue of the Supreme Court judgment which nullified the Zamfara APC governorship primaries a week to the May 29, 2019 inauguration of a new government.
The then outgoing Governor Abdul-Aziz Yari of the APC was fighting tooth and nail with another chieftain of the party, Senator Kabir Marafa, for control of the party machinery. The struggle between the duo resorted in disputed primary elections where the camp of Yari produced the governorship candidate in the person of Mukhtar Idris who eventually won the election.
APC won the election convincingly with Idris, Yari’s anointed candidate, being declared the winner having polled 534,541 votes to defeat his closest opponent, Matawalle of the PDP who scored 189,452 votes.
However, Marafa’s camp continued to pursue its case in court that the primary was not properly conducted and on May 24, just five days to the inauguration of a new government, the Supreme Court decided the case by nullifying the primaries conducted by the Yari camp of APC.
It also went ahead to void all the votes recorded during the elections for the governorship, national and state assemblies.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment by a five-member panel, decided that a party that had no valid candidate cannot be said to have emerged winner of the recently conducted general elections.
So, the first runner-up in the election automatically became the winner after the judgment.
This was how Matawalle, who was then the PDP candidate and came a distant second in the election, suddenly found himself in the government house. He didn’t even come close to the winner, to think of challenging the outcome in court.
But though he was lucky to benefit from the misfortune of the ruling party to become the governor of the state, he dumped the party which gave him the platform, as is the case with many other politicians.
On June 29, 2021, just about two years after his inauguration through the apex court verdict, Matawalle dumped PDP for the APC and became the leader of the ruling party in the state.
Amidst shock and disbelief, the governor joined the ruling party, fighting tooth and nail to assert his authority as the new leader of the party in the state.
He, in the process, masterminded the impeachment of his deputy, Mahdi Aliyu Gusau, who refused to join the governor in defecting to APC.
Critics of Matawalle accused him of allegedly allowing the activities of bandits to escalate in the state even though he said he had taken measures to curtail the situation.
He also came down hard on traditional rulers suspected of backing or having links with bandits terrorising the state, while also empowering state vigilantes to join forces with security agencies in battling the criminals in communities and villages in the North West state.
Why he lost
According to political pundits, several factors may be responsible for his defeat in the just concluded election, but the most potent is said to be the fractured state of the APC in the state which saw chieftains and loyalists working at cross purposes to the advantage of the opposition PDP, as the outcome of Saturday’s election has shown.
And from May 29, 2023, the PDP is set to take over the governance of the state, while Governor Matawalle seems so far, the only incumbent who failed to secure a second term.
By Afeez Hanafi & Abdullateef Aliyu
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